Volume 22 Issue 8, August 2018


There is a historical background of the role of the armed forces in the national affairs of Turkey. This role is diametrically opposite to the role that Pakistan’s armed forces have played.

After the defeat of the central powers (which included the Ottoman Empire) in the First World War at the hands of the Allies and the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans, the Ottoman Empire was dismembered into several kingdoms sponsored by the Allies. The Allies wanted to occupy the Turkish mainland but the defeated Ottoman armies reorganized themselves under the leadership of Ghazi Mustafa Kemal and successfully repealed the combined offensive of the British, French, Australian and New Zealand armies at Gallipoli.

The Ottoman Caliphate, after its defeat in the First World War, followed a policy of appeasement of the Allied powers. Major cities in Turkey like Constantinople and Izmir were occupied by the Allied powers in 1919. It was at that time that Ghazi Mustafa Kemal established the ‘Turkish National Movement’ and started the Turkish War of Independence aimed at restoring Turkish sovereignty on the Turkish mainland. Forces under the command of Ghazi Mustafa Kemal crossed the Bosporus Strait and also recovered lost territory on the European side.

He abolished the pro-Western Caliphate, declared Turkey a secular republic, held elections in which women had a right to vote, passed a constitution and rebuilt Turkey on modern lines. The Turkish Armed Forces commanded by the Ghazi thus played a central role not only in the War of Independence but in revolutionizing their country and making it a secular democratic republic.

By contrast and notwithstanding his great admiration of Ghazi Mustafa Kemal, the independence movement of the Indo-Muslim nation led by Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was purely a people’s movement. Muslims in the British armed forces or Indian bureaucracy did not have any role in the democratic independence movement led by Jinnah.

The armed struggle for the liberation of Gilgit and Baltistan and Azad Jummu and Kashmir of October 1947, although joined by local scouts and some troops, was also a people’s armed struggle. It was unfortunate that those in the armed forces who had played a leading role in the liberation of these areas, soldiers like Col. Mirza Hassan, General Akbar Khan and some other officers were arrested in the ‘Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case’ and were sent to jail for about four years.

The Muslim independence movement in India lacked political organization and there lay its weakness. The time span in which Jinnah turned an idea into a reality was a mere seven years from March 1940 to August 1947. Political leadership had to lean upon trained bureaucrats to run the affairs of the state. Over a period of time, the bureaucrats gained ascendency over the politicians who had led the independence movement.

The new-born state of Pakistan had serious security threats. The British had purposely left many territorial issues unresolved ensuring that the two newly independent countries would remain in perpetual conflict. The armed forces of Pakistan had to be militarily strengthened. The western countries, after winning the Second World War, did have surplus stockpiles of military hardware. It goes to the credit of Prime Minister Suhrawardy that he obtained modern military hardware for the army and the air force from the West that gave Pakistan a military edge over its adversaries.

Suharwardy was a master at balancing different forces. He was the first Pakistani Prime Minister to go to China. He attended non-aligned forums like the Bandung Conference. However, Pakistan’s dependence on Western arm supplies had already built a strong axis between the Western powers and the country’s armed forces. Around this axis had gathered a strong coterie of local beneficiaries whose interest it was that the armed forces of Pakistan should play a decisive role in making state policies.

Pakistan’s dependence on the West for military supplies and spare parts implied that the country should be a part of the imperialist strategy of encircling socialist countries. From the shooting down of the U2 plane of Commander Gary Powers over Russian territory to involvement in Afghanistan, history is witness to the Himalayan blunders that Pakistan has been committing as a consequence of its ‘friendship’ with the West.

Internally it has meant that the State of Pakistan should crush all elements that stand for progress, democracy and non-alignment. Unlike India, religious extremism in Pakistan has been unable to stop the progressive forces in a democratic society. People of Pakistan have valiantly struggled for democracy against four Martial Law regimes, the one by Zia being the most brutal and having the full support of religious extremists. This democratic struggle of the people has greatly raised the level of their political consciousness and that is irreversible.

Pakistan’s linkage with alternate sources to meet some of its requirements of military equipment, its own defence production base and its nuclear program have all contributed towards reducing the country’s dependence on Western military supplies. In spite of its great dependence on international financial institutions, Pakistan is gradually moving towards a policy of non-alignment.

It was a sad hour in Turkish history when its elected Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was put to death by its armed forces. But the sacrifice has not gone in vain. Turkey has since then experienced a shift away from military control and is gradually increasing the role of the elected government and the parliament in making policy decisions. Just three years back, the bravery with which the people of Turkey faced military tanks on the streets when a coup attempt was made should be an eye opener for all Bonapartists.

The National Security Council in Pakistan has a very important role to play. Pakistan has external and internal security threats. Terrorism and extremism linger on. A close working relationship and a consensus between the civilian government and the armed forces on matters of security, both internal and external, are the need of the hour. But at a time when the armed forces are repeating again and again that their duty is to implement policies made by the civilian government and the elected parliament, and that they do not want to indulge in political matters, one does not understand why some right wing political elements as well as some in the media are trying to drag them into politics. It is high time that the civilian setup learnt to do its own job instead of burdening the armed forces with tasks that have nothing to do with security issues.
In the days of the formation of Pakistan People’s Party, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had once reprimanded me on my habit of wasting time. “Tall man, you should be visiting four places in one hour instead of sitting and talking aimlessly at one place for four hours at a time.” He had further warned me that if I and the others did not give up this habit, the country shall be known for its lazy politicians.

Like every sport in the world, politics demands quick footwork. Fifty years on while all my hair have turned white and my legs have grown weaker, I do feel the need for a much more efficient, honest and result-oriented political class that values time and formulates policies that will ensure the permanence of a democratic system where all institutions would work within their constitutional parameters and suspicion and fear of one another would be replaced with confidence, mutual trust and cooperation.

The writer is a former senator and has shared his thoughts extensively on nuclear policy issues, left-wing ideas and literary and political philosophy. He supports social democracy in Pakistan and has provided his expertise on taking a moral stance on nuclear weapons initiatives at diplomatic conventions.
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